Our Politicos Liked the Trump Kids. Substance? Not So Much.
Two of America's smartest political strategists are analyzing the Republican National Convention this week for Bloomberg View, giving their perspectives on how the proceedings come across to millions of viewers and voters. They are Fred Davis, who has run scores of Republican campaigns and was the top adviser to the Super PAC supporting Ohio Governor John Kasich's presidential quest this year; and John Sasso, a longtime Democratic adviser who was the leading strategist for the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004. Davis is watching from Los Angeles, Sasso from Massachusetts.
Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on much these days, but our convention-watchers both thought the Republicans had a pretty good second night on Tuesday, with reservations.
Sasso, the Democrat, gave Republicans an A for the way they drew a sympathetic personal portrait of Donald Trump, who finally became the official nominee. They had special praise for the two of Trump’s children who addressed the convention, Donald Jr., 38, and Tiffany, 22.
But Sasso gave the night a D on substance for failing to develop the official theme of the day: How the party would create more economic opportunity under a Trump presidency. It would have been an F, he added, except for an impressive speech on economic themes by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Davis, the Republican, was less impressed by Trump’s children, though he said they spoke quite effectively. He said the Republicans did a good job of attacking Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. He said the frequently repeated chant of “lock her up" -- a charge that she should be prosecuted for a multitude of supposed sins -- "has the potential of catching on."
But he also faulted the proceedings for predictability. "Trump ran a campaign like we've never seen before and I thought we were going to see a convention like we've never seen before," Davis said. Instead, he said, it was usual fare of speeches that generally were too long.
Each observer found parts of the night amusing, even weird. Davis praised a roaring speech by Dana White, the martial arts promoter who is president of Ultimate Fighting Championship. He called White “authentic.”
Sasso was taken aback by Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate. Carson attacked Clinton for her youthful admiration for the mid-20th-century community activist Saul Alinsky, whom Carson said once wrote favorably of Lucifer. "Lucifer!” Sasso exclaimed. “Come on!"
Trump’s children offered an unusually personal take on their family and father, which the strategists thought was politically potent. "The daughter was very poised," Sasso said, "while Donald Jr. was especially effective in connecting his father to construction workers.” He said that for Trump Republicans, that connection “might have been the first time they affected voters who may still be trying to make up their minds." But Sasso faulted Trump’s son for wandering "into arrogance when he got into ideology."
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